This story shows the power of the internet and social media to solve difficult cases that involve missing and unidentified persons.
A few weeks ago, an unidentified teenage victim who was killed in a 1995 auto accident in Virginia was finally identified thanks to DNA testing and the efforts of some tireless internet sleuths, who posted composite images of him along with personal details online under the name “Grateful Doe.”
On December 10th, state medical examiners in Virginia announced that DNA testing had confirmed the identity of “Grateful Doe” as Jason Callahan from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Callahan was just 19 years old when he was killed in an auto accident in Virginia and his remains were unidentifiable at the time.
The driver of the van, Eric Michael Hager, 21, fell asleep behind the wheel and was killed in the crash as well. Michael Hager had identification on him at the scene of the accident, but Callahan did not. Hager’s family didn’t know anything about the identity of the passenger who was travelling in Michael’s van that day.
The few personal clues available from the crash included two ticket stubs for two Grateful Dead concerts in Washington D.C.; a Grateful Dead t-shirt worn by Callahan; a small star tattoo on his upper left arm and a personal letter that was addressed only to “Jason.”
Furthermore, according to reports, Hager and Callahan had never met before until that day when Hager agreed to give Callahan a ride in his van.
A group of internet sleuths from various web sites and social media banded together and decided to try to solve the mystery of his real identity.
Last year, a group of composite images of Callahan, along with the few personal clues from the crash, were posted on an image sharing site called Imgur. That post was viewed over 600,000 times.
People also set up a “Grateful Doe” Facebook page, which generated over 14,000 likes. Information on “Grateful Doe” was also posted on Reddit and other online sharing and social media sites.
In January, Callahan’s mother, Margaretta Evans, saw the Facebook page and recognized the unidentified and missing teen as her son. Evans posted on the Facebook page that the man was her son, Jason Callahan, and that she had been looking for him for 20 years with no success.
Callahan’s family hadn’t reported him missing because he had a history of running away and the family didn’t know his whereabouts or where to file a missing persons report due to his transient nature. Callahan’s family also assumed that he wanted his location to remain unknown.
His half-sister, Shannon Michelson, said that she is glad his disappearance has been solved, but she is also very sad because she wanted to reunite with him again after all of these years apart.
The story of Jason Callahan also illustrates the importance of filing timely missing persons reports when a family member disappears without warning and for no apparent reason.